Death Cab For Cutie have always been a respectable indie-rock act with personable lyrics that appeal to people that may also dabble with theatrical emo. Ben Gibbard and company have always created serviceable sad jams. Even on 2015’s Kintsugi, despite age and maturity, Gibbard was able to bring the self-loathing goods on a song like “No Room in Frame.” Thank You For Today sees the band’s expansion of sound that they began exploring on Codes and Keys, but it also sees the band peddling back into their early material. The album comes out feeling like an incoherent blob of ennui.
What’s most offensive about Thank You For Today is it’s familiarity. The album mostly feels like a b-team Death Cab record. There are some sonic similarities, but most of the songs can’t really stand on their own. They don’t really fit into a narrative context for this album. There aren’t any songs that instantly click as a song that makes you gasp and prepare to be devastated like a song like “What Sarah Said” or even, “Lightness” or “Styrofoam Plates” might. The most distinctive track is the first single, “Gold Rush,” because it sounds like Death Cab’s attempt at a Johnny Cash song. Songs like “Summer Years” and “You Moved Away” try to bring the same movements that Transatlanticism had, but the only innovation was a sped up tempo.
Anytime Thank You For Today seems like it’s going to pull in its listener, it can’t maintain its grasp. The surprisingly summery “Autumn Love” is the perfect example. It feels like 90’s alt-rock fused with early Death Cab, but it never manages to land a punch as good as anything on Narrow Stairs. This feels very similar to the last Dropkick Murphys album in the sense that it’s a band just lazily doing what they do. Not that Gibbard has ever been a particularly expressive vocalist, but his heart really doesn’t feel in these songs. Not that every Death Cab song has to hit you like a heartbreak, but it would be nice to feel like Gibbard is actually inserting himself into these songs. That’s part of what made Kintsugi so enjoyable; he was fresh off the heartbreak from his star-studded divorce. Now that he’s happily married, I want to hear about that.
Gibbard does explore these feelings a little on “60 & Punk,” the album’s closer. It’s an earnest portrait of someone who’s let their career change them. It’s a melancholic account of meeting an old hero. It’s about really watching how success can dry a person to a burnout and turn them into an old, rich sadsack. Gibbard asks “Were you happier when you were poor?” He watches his hero that he sees as having saved his life as growing out of people to save. Even though it’s not necessarily about himself, it does seem that Gibbard projects some of his worries onto this figure. As Death Cab’s fans age, they don’t have nearly the same cache as they had when they were on The O.C. and Gibbard sounds sad and a little afraid as the album ends.